Maryland plans to develop a 16-mile light rail project in the Washington D.C. suburbs through what will be the largest public-private partnership and the first P3 for a transit project in the state, government leaders announced Monday.

The Purple Line project, which will link Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, is expected to cost a total of $2.2 billion. To date, $109 million has been spent on the project, and the state is pledging another $400 million for construction and $280 million for right-of-way acquisition and the final design. The remainder will be paid for with private investment as well as federal grants and state and local contributions, state officials said during a press conference in Bethesda.

The Purple Line is expected to have 21 stops in the two counties and connections to other transit lines. Construction could start as early as 2015, and the line could be open for customers by 2020.

The private partner will be chosen by a competitive process, state officials said. A request for qualifications will be issued in the fall, after a review of the selection process by the Maryland General Assembly and preliminary consent by the board of public works. The final request for proposals will be released in Spring of next year, officials said.

Maryland will pay the private partner annual payments throughout a 30- to 40-year contract period in exchange for the company providing some of the financing and constructing, maintaining and operating the rail line. If the contractor fails to meet pre-determined performance targets, the state will make deductions from the payments.

O’Malley called P3s “the way of the future for us to be able as a country to do big important things like the Purple Line.”

The light rail will be the first P3 under a new state law which took effect on July 1. The legislation provides for a stronger, more predictable and streamlined process for the private sector. It also requires competitive bidding for projects and allows private companies to submit unsolicited concepts to address the state’s infrastructure needs.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who helped to get the P3 legislation passed, stressed the value of the financing method.

“Public-private partnerships give us a tremendous opportunity to work with the private sector in creating jobs, in growing our economy, in building the most competitive workforce in the country and developing Maryland businesses here,” he said.

The state is also looking into having a private company help develop a 14-mile light rail project in Baltimore known as the Red Line. P3s also are being used in Maryland to deliver infrastructure improvements at the Seagirt Marine Terminal and to redevelop rest stops along Interstate 95.

In addition to describing plans for financing the Purple Line, O’Malley also announced state funding for other transportation projects in Montgomery County, including $125 million to construct a new interchange along I-270, $100 million for right-of-way acquisition and final design for the Corridor Cities Transitway, which would provide bus rapid transit from the Shady Grove metro station to the COMSAT facility just south of Clarksburg, and $85 million in operating assistance for the county’s Ride On bus system.

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